I’ll admit I was as guilty as anyone when it came to predicting an in-season splash for the White Sox in 2019.
If you scroll through your White Sox Talk Podcast feed, you’ll find our entertaining season predictions edition, in which both Ryan McGuffey and myself projected a big-time acquisition by the White Sox at the trade deadline. And it wasn’t a crazy suggestion then, with the White Sox coming off their failed pursuit of Manny Machado, still the owners of a loaded farm system in a season where things were looking up, even if “up” didn’t mean a trip to the postseason.
But the realities of 2019 have since settled in.
The White Sox are going to make a big-time addition from outside the organization at some point. That’s one of the steps in Rick Hahn’s ongoing rebuilding project. And with all the positives that have happened to this point this season, that addition coming before Opening Day 2020 looks likely. Teaming that to-be-determined player with Lucas Giolito, Yoan Moncada, Eloy Jimenez, Tim Anderson, James McCann, Michael Kopech, Luis Robert, Nick Madrigal and, probably, Jose Abreu could vault the White Sox into contending status for next season.
But if that player is going to be acquired at some point in the next week, where is he going to come from? The truth is that the opportunities to acquire that kind of player during the season, as opposed to in the offseason, are few and far between, especially for a team like the White Sox, who aren't exactly your traditional "buyer" at eight games under .500.
“I would like to believe it’s feasible in season,” Hahn said before the All-Star break, “and we’re going to approach things over the course of the next month as if it is. At the same time, realistically, just looking purely at the volume of such transactions, it’s more likely to occur in the offseason than in season.
“We all would like to address as many needs as possible via trade over the course of the next few weeks. Realistically, that’s probably not nearly as likely as needs being filled in the offseason.”
Here’s what the White Sox would be in the market for: a player with a good deal of team control remaining on his contract who could slot into right field or the starting rotation and make a big-time impact right away. How many players fitting that description will be on the market over the next week?
Look around the league, and there aren’t a ton of teams ready to cough up assets like that.
Perhaps the biggest name that’s been mentioned is Charlie Blackmon, an All-Star outfielder for the Colorado Rockies, who will apparently listen to offers while they own a sub-.500 record in the NL West. That division is dominated by the Los Angeles Dodgers and features a surging San Francisco Giants team, and while the San Diego Padres are in last place, they sit in a similar position to the White Sox, seemingly ready to awaken from a long rebuilding slumber in the near future.
Blackmon’s an excellent hitter, though the question will be asked about his numbers away from Coors Field. In his career, he’s got a 1.000 OPS in Denver and a .737 OPS everywhere else. This season, the disparity is even greater: a 1.318 OPS at home and a .659 OPS on the road. But that business aside, he’s got four All-Star appearances under his belt and he’s under contract through the 2021 season with a pair of player options for the two seasons that follow.
Other names that have been bandied about — even if a purely speculative fashion — include Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher Zack Greinke, a potential Hall of Famer with a couple more seasons left on his very expensive contract, and Boston Red Sox outfielder Andrew Benintendi, who at least one person thinks that front office should listen on as the defending champs try to shake off a World Series hangover that’s lingered deep into the summer.
Would the White Sox be interested in those types of players? Yeah, sure they would. But then the other reality check comes around the bend: Who are they going to give up to get them?
Stereotypically, these types of trades are made by teams looking to unload unfavorable contracts in an effort to launch into a rebuilding project of some kind. The D-backs would fall into that category, but the Red Sox most definitely do not. And the Rockies? They’ve still got Nolan Arenado and Trevor Story and are less than a year removed from a trip to the playoffs. They don’t strike as the kind of team ready to launch into rebuilding mode.
It's possible none of these three teams have any intention of trading the discussed players. Listening to offers and shopping for a trade partner are two very different things.
But if a team was compelled to make a deal, it would likely looking to replace an All Star with something big, be that a return package well stocked with highly ranked prospects or a player ready to make an impact at the major league level. Who do the White Sox have — that isn’t an important part of their own future plans — that would fit such a description?
The White Sox farm system looked packed to the gills with high-quality talent when the season began. Since, much of the depth has either struggled to produce or suffered a bite from the injury bug. The lengthy list of prospects who caused future roster projections to overflow last summer has potentially become less attractive to other clubs at the moment.
The White Sox sure aren’t going to trade Robert or Madrigal or Andrew Vaughn. So who becomes the best possible centerpiece of a deal that lands a player the caliber of Blackmon or Benintendi or Greinke?
Luis Basabe? He’s got a .238 batting average in only 45 games this season. Blake Rutherford? He’s got a .672 OPS. Steele Walker? His batting average is .100 points lower at Class A Winston-Salem than it was at Class A Kannapolis. Micker Adolfo? Zack Burdi? Jimmy Lambert? All three are out for the year.
These players are all entirely capable of bouncing back and becoming solid major league players. But the trade deadline is a week away. It’s hard to see these guys, at this exact moment, being enough to acquire an All-Star big leaguer.
And so that further lessens the likelihood of the White Sox making moves over the course of the next week. When you throw in these factors with the fact that their list of major league trade candidates includes a number of guys who could help a contending White Sox team in 2020, significant moves look even less likely.
Anything can happen in baseball, so never say never. But there are multiple things working against the notion of a big-time in-season acquisition.